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Aer Lingus letter calls Shannon “inefficient”

AER Lingus called its Shannon base “inefficient” in a letter to Tanaiste Leo Varadkar outlining why it is closing its cabin crew base in the Clare airport.
The airline wrote to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment on Tuesday, and the letter also sought to put some of the blame for the situation on aviation policies the Government has pursued.
“Aer Lingus has suffered very significant damage as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, particularly as travel restrictions in Ireland have been more stringent than in any country in Europe,” the second paragraph stated.
It also said that the airline had lost €361 million last year, and another €103 million in the first three months of this year, and is now carrying a large debt burden.
The airline claimed that Shannon had been uncompetitive prior to the pandemic.
“The Shannon base has been inefficient and out of line with market for a significant period of time.
“In addition, we have not operated a commercial flight to or from Shannon since April 2020 and the current timeline for a resumption in flying from this base is uncertain, as a consequence of which all staff to include cabin crew in the base remain on temporary lay-off.”
Eighty-one cabin crew were employed at Shannon, and some may have an opportunity to transfer to Dublin, with the rest set to be laid off. There are two management and support staff, one of whom will be impacted by the move.
In addition there are 45 Aer Lingus ground staff based at Shannon and their jobs are currently under review, a company spokesperson said.
At the moment Aer Lingus is still expected to resume services to the US and Heathrow post pandemic, but Tuesday’s news certainly won’t give any confidence about the future of these strategically important routes.
One individual who is set to lose their job after long service to the airline, said they believe they are being sacrificed to send a message to remaining staff and the State.
“We’re being used as a political pawn, the Mid-West is the easiest place to target.
“Part of it could be to get them (the Government) to lift some of the restrictions. The other side of it is to use the pandemic to change pay and conditions and work practices. It’s a message to the remaining crew, using us.”
The worker criticised the behaviour of Aer Lingus this week. “It’s disgusting the way they did it, they only informed us at 9 or 10 o’clock that there’d be an update at 1pm to tell us we were all being let go and they were writing to the Taoiseach.
“But they already had the letter written, they were preparing it for weeks. When we had been supposed to come back initially we asked what was the story with us, but they never even wrote back to us.
“To lose your job is gut wrenching, but the manner in which they conduct their business makes it worse. They have all these brand values but they don’t use them when they’re dealing with their employees. They’re charlatans.”
The closure of the base has prompted huge criticism from Clare’s politicans and business organisations.
However, the worker said while there are numerous public representatives from Clare and Limerick on the Oireachtas Transport Committee, they don’t seem to achieve much.
Mary Considine, CEO of Shannon Group expressed sympathy for those who are being let go. “Our thoughts are with the Shannon based Aer Lingus employees impacted by this decision. It is extremely disappointing news for them.”
She called for a clear aviation policy and said Shannon will continue to work with Aer Lingus.
“We are committed to working with them and all our aviation partners on the restoration of vital services to and from Shannon Airport which are critical for business and tourism sectors.”
Deputy Michael McNamara had an angry exchange in the Dail with the taoiseach saying, “We do not have an aviation policy or aviation recovery plan. We need one before it is too late. It is already too late for my constituency. The Taoiseach’s is next.
“He might not care much about the rest of the country but if he cares about his own legacy…He talks about Fianna Fáil. One thing Fianna Fáil built was Shannon Airport but the Taoiseach is going to take it down around him.”
He added, “What future does the Taoiseach offer the people of Clare in terms of connectivity with Aer Lingus and the workers of Aer Lingus today?
“What is he now going to do about aviation in this country? Why are we so out of synch with the rest of the world?”
Attempting to respond, the Taoiseach began by saying “First, we are not out of synch with the rest of the world.”
However at this point Deputy McNamara roared “Yes, we are. Do not mislead the House.”
He added, “For God’s sake Taoiseach, tell the truth at least.”
Fine Gael deputy Joe Carey said the decision was “hasty and ill advised”, while he said he would work to try and bring about a reversal. The Clarecastle man accepted the Government should have published an aviation plan by now.
“Mr Vardakar is going to ask Aer Lingus to defer this decision until the aviation roadmap is published. The aviation lobby is blaming the Government for not publishing a plan and I feel they have a point on this.
“I feel that Eamon Ryan and his department should have published an aviation plan at this stage.
“Shannon is much more than an airport. There’s a reason why there are so many Foreign Direct Investment jobs in Shannon. It’s because of the airport.”
He said that future support for Aer Lingus must come with strings attached.
The Government has had no stake in Aer Lingus for the last six years, and Violet Anne Wynne said that Sinn Féin had opposed the State selling its remaining share in 2015.
Ms Wynne said the laissez faire approach taken to aviation has not worked for Shannon.
“The Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan has taken an unacceptable hands-off approach to aviation and the Government’s lack of action is now costing even more jobs.
Fianna Fáil’s Cathal Crowe said a battle must commence to have the decision reversed.
“I don’t think this should be accepted as a fait accompli. I have asked the Taoiseach to intervene in the case and speak with the company directly, because even though the job losses are central to everyone’s thoughts, there are even wider ramifications for our region when one considers the loss of connectivity to the US, Heathrow and continental Europe.
“Without Aer Lingus flying out of Shannon, we are left with very little.
“The Digital Green Cert will be implemented in a matter of weeks and its final agreement and implementation is contingent on it being ratified by all EU member states – the fate of Irish aviation and the fate of Shannon Airport hugely depends on this deal being struck and international air travel resuming in the quickest possible time.”

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.